Date Presented 04/02/2022

This qualitative study describes the lived experiences of 24 men with breast cancer through interpretive phenomenological analysis. Men face unique challenges and lifestyle changes related to the diagnosis. Key themes affecting occupational performance were identified: living as a man with a ‘woman’s disease,’ promoting awareness through advocacy, altered self-image and perceptions by others, support systems, constant comparison to women, and barriers to health care.

Primary Author and Speaker: Ann Potter

Additional Authors and Speakers: Kelsey Mieczkowski, Jacob Meyers, Sogand Bashi Ardestani, Kaitlin Maguire

Contributing Authors: Lindsay Crue, Breanne Bentz, Stephanie Leiby

PURPOSE: The purpose of this study was to describe the lived experiences of male breast cancer and the impact on daily occupations. Breast cancer is associated with women and presents unique challenges in men (Younes et al., 2019). Current literature focuses on physical challenges but little exists describing how daily occupations are altered.

DESIGN: Researchers utilized a qualitative, interpretive phenomenological approach through semi-structured interviews exploring breast cancer diagnoses in males. Semi-structured interviews allowed researchers to gather personal narratives about the participant’s personal experiences and perspectives to the diagnosis.

METHOD: The sample consisted of 24 men with a current or previous breast cancer diagnosis. Semi-structured interviews were conducted via phone. Transcripts were transcribed and cleaned. Every interview was coded then themed using the Person, Environment, Occupation (PEO) model as a framework. Open and axial coding was completed on each transcript by four researchers to improve trustworthiness. After four rounds of coding, the interviews were compared and major themes were identified.

RESULTS: Six major themes and findings emerged. Death as a reality—The realization of death led to a sense of proactivity that increased their efforts to reach their dreams. Understanding death as a reality positively changed individuals considering their life journey as a gift Individual personal insights—Participants shared personal insights and perceptions and how they drew on inner strength and external support as their ability to perform roles and occupations was challenged. Body image is impacted and identified as a source of stress and fear of others’ perceptions. Social environment—Many men felt that the public (including healthcare professionals) were unaware and lacked the knowledge to understand breast cancer as affecting both men and women. Due to the rarity of breast cancer in men, many of the participants lacked communication and support from people in similar situations to their own. Interactions with the healthcare system—All the participants acknowledged hindrances and benefits of their interactions with the healthcare system and professionals throughout their journey with breast cancer. Decrease in engagement in occupations—The rigorous treatment protocols for cancer takes a toll on the person and the occupations in which they desire to engage. Finding meaning in new occupations—A majority of participants found new occupations in relation to advocacy. New meaning in life was found and helped the males find a new role in bringing light and awareness to this disease.

CONCLUSION: Understanding the health disparities and occupational performance within the lived experiences that males with breast cancer face in comparison to females, is relevant in occupational therapy practice to provide support within the contexts of person, environment, and occupation. This study demonstrated the need for the unique skills and abilities that occupational therapists can provide to this underserved population to promote engagement in meaningful occupations, and therefore promote overall health and well-being in the lives of men affected by breast cancer.This is the first study of its kind to examine occupational performance in male breast cancer. This work informs occupational therapists about the unique challenges and experiences men face related to occupation and breast cancer.


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